A Rich World Requiring No Wealth
The most luxurious hotel in my small, rustic town is not far from my apartment. I visited there again the other day, not to stay the night but to use the club lounge.
The club lounge is exclusive to a member of the hotel’s loyalty program. The members can use it free of charge. The hotel has a regular lounge for its guests which menu has heart-stopping prices. Nonetheless, it was alive with customers who came to ski on the skiing slopes adjacent to the hotel. At the entrance, just by telling the server that I am a club member and flickering my membership card, she ushered me to the back of the regular lounge. Behind the glass door was the club lounge.
Once I stepped inside, I was in a heavenly place. Despite the hurly-burly of the regular lounge, I had this secluded section to myself. A cartridge coffee machine brewed freshly each cup. Bottles of sparkling wine and club soda stood in the ice-filled silver cooler. Kiss chocolates in silver wrappers, Hershey’s almond chocolates in gold wrappers and packs of a specialty cookie were arrayed. The place used up two-story-high vertical space and the wall-wide window reached to the second floor ceiling. Out of it was a side of the snow-covered mountain. I enjoyed sparkling wine in a flute glass as much as I wanted, sitting in a cozy sofa.
The thing is, I didn’t pay a dime for this service since the membership fee is free. Other occasions I use my membership card except for this lounge are when I travel to the city a couple of times a year and stay at one of the same hotel chain to happiness seems to be enlarged 10 times when a gorgeous experience costs none. I don’t think that the wealthy feel happy when they pay a lot of money to use a luxurious hotel lounge because it’s how things usually go. I’ve seen many rich people who don’t have a good time with a frown no matter how expensive the place they are at is. My parents used to be rich, but they were always unhappy and pulled a long face. The schools I went to were exclusive Catholic schools, but the students and their parents alike didn’t seem happy at all from any angles I could have ever taken to observe them.
It’s an illusion that money brings happiness. I have just finished my second book that I wrote disregarding big sales. Since I didn’t bother about how many copies would sell, I had fun in all the processes such as writing, an enormous amount of editing work and publishing. My happiness is 100 times as much as the one that I felt when I was desperate to be famous and rich.
A long time ago, I got in a facility of a soft drink company when I visited Walt Disney World. The visitors there were allowed to drink a various kinds of soft drink from the dispensers as much as they wanted for free. The minute I entered the place, I noticed a strange atmosphere. It was crowded, but people were all smiling. Each of them was laughing, talking, jesting, and having fun with a small paper cup in their hand. While I lived in U.S., it was the only place where I saw people look joyful and relaxed without influences of alcohol or drugs.
Does wealth really make people happy? We can be happy without it if we overcome fear and create the world where money doesn’t work on us. I know, though, the way to happiness is of course long and hard…
When I woke up, it was already Easter evening. After lunch, I walked to the train station to shop for party foods.
On my way, I enjoyed cherry blossoms in full bloom, taking pictures at a park. Because it was night, there was nobody in the park so that I monopolized the view in the quiet environment. One of a few good things living in Japan is safe enough to walk around a park at night. Then, I arrived at the supermarket at perfect timing as they had just started putting half-off stickers on the unsold prepared foods. I got tons of Chinese food and took more pictures of cherry blossoms from a pedestrian bridge on my way home.
As soon as I came home, I had to take a bath because I’ve set a cutoff time for a bath not to disturb my next-door neighbors with the noise, which is all because of the thin walls of my apartment as I’ve mentioned. By the time I finally sat at the table for our Easter party, only half an hour was left to midnight. I had been looking forward to the party for some time but it turned out to be a short one…
Episode From Surviving in Japan by Hidemi Woods
Audiobook: The Family in Kyoto: One Japanese Girl Got Freedom by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple Books, Google Play, Audible 43 available distributors in total.
A Slipper Battle
About ten months ago, a middle-aged woman complained to me about my slippers at the communal spa of my apartment building. She wanted me to take them off and stay barefoot in the locker room because everyone except for me was barefooted there as a custom.
I refused as being barefoot wasn’t an official rule and I felt much more comfortable and more hygienic with slippers on. I was kind enough to explain to her that wearing slippers was more hygienic on the public floor than barefoot. It’s totally logical, but she didn’t accept anyway because her point was to keep up the custom.
I’ve kept wearing my slippers in the locker room everyday to this day even though sometimes there were other middle-aged women who grumbled to me or darted an angry look at me. Three months after I got the first complaint, I saw a woman wearing slippers in the locker room and I was no longer the only one that wasn’t barefooted. Then, since last month, a mother and her child have been wearing slippers. As I predicted, people began to imitate me and adopt my way.
And the other day, this slipper battle developed a new twist. I entered the locker room with my slippers on as usual, and there was a woman who had gotten out of the spa and been putting on her clothes. She was putting on her socks when I walked past her. Thinking I found the third example of non-barefoot, I said hello to her with a smile as I usually did. She turned to me and our eyes met. I was astounded. It was none other than that middle-aged woman who told me to be barefoot here ten months ago. She herself was wearing socks! She looked startled to see me and her face got filled with embarrassment at once. She returned hello to me in a faint voice. She lost her battle.
Slowly but steadily, a wrong custom such as nothing should change is disappearing. I was shown a proof that to keep doing the right thing can change the world in a better way. For me, though, it’s an extremely trivial thing like wearing slippers…
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“The Best Book of Hidemi Woods”
February is the time that most universities and colleges hold an entrance examination in Japan. When I was a senior at high school, I applied for five universities and one college. I failed all five universities.They send the result by mail and put it up on the campus too. An applicant is allotted a number and the numbers of passed applicants are put up on a big bulletin board there. For one of the universities I applied, I was fairly confident about passing after the examination, and I went to see the result at the campus alone before receiving it by mail.There were lots of numbers on the big board and I was quite sure mine was among them. But it wasn’t. I failed the exam. And there, I discovered that a human reaction to totally huge despair was laugh. To my surprise, completely unaware, I laughed. Besides the applicants, around the board were students who were recruiting those who passed to their clubs, and people at local businesses who were looking for part-timers. Because I laughed, they thought I passed and they flooded around me at once. They handed numerous fliers to me, saying “Congratulations!”I came home by subway. At the station, I dropped to a trash bin a big bundle of fliers that were meant for only those who passed. Tears also fell. During the subway ride, I felt like my life was going in a long endless tunnel instead of a train. I remember how dark my future seemed that day…
I spent almost the whole first year at the private junior high school as an uncool geek. Every get-cool scheme of mine had failed. Neither breaching the school rules nor joining the drama club worked. I hadn’t come up with a new idea and had hung around with my not-so-cool friends.
One day we were having a hilarious time at recess with tongue twisters I had devised. I had made a list of oddly sounded words on a piece of paper and read it out quickly in front of my friends. I seemed to sound so funny and they laughed hard. As we were making a racket, other students began to look at us curiously. Some cool girls from rich families approached us and asked what was going on. They never came near uncool girls but I drew their attention this time. I showed the list and demonstrated my tongue twisters, which didn’t appeal to them at all. They sneered and left. But I realized one thing: cool girls starved for laughter because they put on airs and kept their countenance every day. If I could make them laugh regularly, they might like me and include me in their circle.I commenced my assaults in earnest. Since then, I had behaved in a silly way whenever I passed by cool rich girls at school. I made funny faces, walked by dancing weirdly, or mimicked a TV comedian. At first they just looked at me in dismay, but they were gradually interested in me. They stopped and talked to me, “You’re so funny!” Then I would press an insurance laugh with haphazard puns or gags. Since I didn’t have a talent for making people laugh basically, I was out of comic materials so easily. I had to use the fact of a farmer’s daughter to make them laugh. This last resort of mine really succeeded. Soon one of the cool girls asked me to have lunch together, and I was invited to her circle.
I officially joined the cool group at last. That acted like magic and other students stopped mocking me completely. In the end, after so many trials, to be the class clown was indeed the solution to be cool at school for me…The effect of being in the cool and rich group at junior high school was much bigger than I had expected and was almost magical. I was no longer a geek at school. Other students’ attitude toward me changed dramatically and they even respected me. I jumped into the whole new world.The girls in the group looked through a teen fashion magazine and chatted about its contents zealously at lunchtime. It looked like an adult life to me, as I had never been interested in fashion, let alone talked about it with my friends. After school, they would hang around the downtown area in the city, looking around the shops or having a snack at a fast food restaurant. I had seldom been downtown and I felt like I started a city life all of a sudden. Walking by elegant shops had never been my usual habit, and as for a fast food restaurant, I had never stepped into it before. On weekends, they would go to the movies together. My way of spending time outside school completely changed and it was almost like I began to live in America.
On the other hand, there was a huge set back to be a part of the group. It was horribly costly. My scant monthly allowance didn’t last more than a week while other girls from the rich family didn’t have to care. A coin jar in the dining room in my house became empty quickly. My younger sister’s stash of money in her desk drawer had been shrinking steadily by my regular stealing.One of the girls in the group had a friend in a boys’ school and he invited us to his school’s homecoming. Since ours was a girls’ school, it was an exciting opportunity to meet boys. There, the boys asked us out after the homecoming, but I was the exclusion among the group. No one asked me out. While they were headed for a fast food restaurant, I went home, crying.I would do anything to stay in the cool circle, including acting a totally different person by giving up being myself…
It has gotten warmer little by little and spring is near. Shortly, cherry blossoms are blooming here and there around Japan, making a usually somber country beautiful. Cherry blossoms mean the season to begin a new year at a school and an office in Japan. It was spring when I entered elementary school and this time of year reminds me of how I felt at that time.At Japanese schools, the whole school assembly is held once a week. I remember the first assembly at the elementary school held in the schoolyard. The school had a large number of students, close to 2,000. They gathered in the schoolyard to listen to a principal’s weekly address, lined up in neat rows by the class and the grade. As I was in the first grade, my row was near the edge of the yard. I glanced at the far side of it, where the sixth-graders stood in line. They were tall and looked like grown-ups to me.And all of a sudden, a strong sense of claustrophobia seized me. I realized that I would keep coming to this school until I grew that big. Considering the excruciating two years I spent at kindergarten, coming here for six years seemed forever and torture. On top of that, it wouldn’t end there. Three years at junior high school and another three years at high school would follow. My mother had already talked about a college then, too. The day I would be freed from school I loathed so much would be so far away. I felt as if I had been put in prison with a life sentence, while the principal was congratulating the first-graders in his speech and cherry blossoms were warmly looking down…